Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models.
Paul, Philippians 3:17 (CEB)
At the risk of alienating 97% of this readership, I’m going to share briefly about a hobby of mine that few others understand. I’ve played disc golf for about 15 years now, both as a recreational and competitive player. It’s a growing sport, with a full pro tour that competes on various courses all over the world. The sport is big enough that many professionals are making a full time living, but small enough that you can still meet the players if you get to a tournament. We stream their tournaments online, and every now and then my kids come out with me to play, but not often.
This past weekend, our local disc golf course hosted a National Tour event, where many of the top players from Europe and the US were competing for three days. Newark, Delaware became the epicenter of the disc golf world for a weekend! (Stop laughing, seriously.) I was excited about watching the pros, but my kids were too and asked to head over to the course several times during the weekend to follow the best players on the planet.
It was a lot of fun to get autographs and see amazing shots, and be immersed in this world for a short time. But something else interesting happened as a result. Every day after school, rather than hopping on their bikes or scooters, my boys have been grabbing their discs and asking to head out to the field to throw and get better. They’ve never shown this kind of consistent interest before. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re getting better every day.
Something changes when we get up close and personal with people who are really doing something well. We can watch from afar, but when we walk alongside somebody and see how they deal with each challenge, it makes us want to imitate them. We get inspired, and we start working at new skills because we see what is possible.
The core ideas behind discipleship are following and becoming. Jesus invited people to walk with him, watch him closely, and see what life with God looked like from an "up close" perspective. This tradition continued in the early generations after Jesus ascended. Paul wrote about it constantly. In his letter to the Corinthian church he was blatant: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Why not just say, "Follow the example of Christ?” Is Paul arrogant and needy here?
I think the reality is that Paul understood that we have to see real lives lived in the Jesus way if we’re to become mature disciples. It doesn’t happen by only reading the Bible and attending church gatherings. It doesn’t just happen from solid small group curriculum. We need to have physical, flesh-and-blood examples of people in our lives who give us something to imitate. This doesn’t mean that we put people on pedestals or try to find perfection. It means that if we’re not walking with others who are formed in Christ, we’re missing a primary opportunity for transformation and inspiration.
With our fiercely independent North American mindset, finding a “Paul” in our lives seems like a luxury. We just don’t have time or energy. But we do, friends, if we decide it matters enough.
Look around your life. Who are you drawn to because you see the compassion of Jesus, the gentleness of Jesus, and the wisdom of Jesus? Who are the people in your periphery that make you want to love God and others better when you’re around them? Perhaps now is the time to be more intentional about walking alongside instead of watching from afar. We all need that, at any age.
Jesus, help me identify disciples around me that I can intentionally learn from and grow with.